Making wine at home is a dying art. Decades ago, most Italian immigrants living in the city’s Little Italy sections would expertly create their wines based on recipes left behind by their forefathers. Now, only a few families still make their wines, and sadly, many of the old-timers have passed away, and their children have not carried on the tradition.
Regardless of how many delicious Italian wines are available in stores, nothing beats a good old-fashioned glass of “Dago Red” to go along with your pasta. This wine pairs well with foods like pasta, meats, chicken, fish, and desserts.
It was also appropriate for holidays, deaths, births, and if you had a cold. There was no Cabernet, Pinot Grigio, or Merlot in the house. There were only two options: red or white. Mostly red.
Homemade wine production was once cost-effective, but cost-effectiveness was not the primary reason for producing your wine. It was a source of pride to make your family’s recipe. It was the pride of having your friend and family join you in making the wine.
If you want to carry on an old tradition, this article will teach you how to make homemade Italian wine.
How to Make Homemade Italian Wine
The beginning of fall was always the best time to make wine. At this point, grapes are bought by the crate, and the winemaking process begins. You can make five to six gallons of wine from forty to fifty pounds of blue grapes, also known as concord grapes.
You could produce 20 to 100 gallons per year, depending on the family. Most of these wines were given away as Christmas gifts, with the remainder consumed throughout the year.
Basic Supplies and Tools
If you’ve spoken with a homemade wine expert and tasted (and liked) homemade wine, you’re ready to begin acquiring some of the basic supplies and equipment required to produce wine, such as:
- Manual Grape Crusher: this equipment is used for crushing the grapes and squeezing the first amount of juice from the grapes.
- Ratchet Basket Press: A press is utilized to extract any remaining juice from the stem and grape.
- 30 Gallon Oak Barrel: You’ll store your wine juice in a barrel for fermentation (some people use stainless steel or glass, but oak imparts some nice flavor). It’s worth noting that a used whiskey barrel should be less expensive.
- 1-2 large plastic food-grade drums (open top) will be used to catch the crushed grapes.
- a funnel with a diameter of 10 inches and a strainer
- 1-2 plastic buckets large enough to fit beneath your ratchet press (for catching the juice)
Every winemaker swears by a different mix of grape varieties. If you like red, make a red variety, and if you like white, make a white variety. If you want to make 30 gallons of wine, you’ll need 36-42 pound boxes of grapes.
Making homemade wine can be messy, so you don’t want to do it in your basement. Lay down some cardboard on your floor and wear old clothes because grape juice stains. The winemaking process is a lengthy one, with most of the tasks being completed in the first week.
The fermentation process starts once the grapes are obtained. It is time-consuming, but the result is well worth it.
You must thoroughly clean the equipment and barrels. The grapes are now ready to be crushed. Modern electric crushers have replaced the wooden hand-cranked crushers that your granddad may have used.
The grapes, along with yeast, sugar, and water, are then fermented in barrels for several weeks before moving on to the next step. The yeast reacts with the sugar to produce alcohol. The juice is then deposited into large jugs, capped, and set aside to allow the sediment from the grapes to settle to the bottom.
Then there’s the bottling and the waiting. Before drinking, the bottles are positioned on their side for six months to a year.
Of course, this process sounds easier than it is. The process is observed and modified daily, but modern technology has made the job much easier than in the past.
Just be patient and understand that many things can go wrong: the wine may contain too much bacteria or pectin, fermentation may fail to begin, or the wine may be full of sediment or too sweet. Storing the wine in an overly cold or overly hot environment can also impact the flavor.
Recipe for “Dago Red” Wine
The basic recipe and process for making “Dago Red” wine, which yields five to six gallons of finished wine, is as follows:
- Get 45-50 lbs. of the best Concord grapes.
- Gently crush the grapes to break the skins.
- Put everything in a clean, open-top container.
- Add 15 pounds of sugar to one to two gallons of lukewarm (100°F to 110°F) water. Add the grapes and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- To keep contaminants out, be sure to cover the container.
- Add one and a half packs of wine yeast after 24 hours.
- For the next 5-7 days, stir the batch twice a day, pressing the pulp down.
- If the room temperature is warm (80°F to 90°F), the juice will be ready in 5-6 days. You can wait 6-7 days if the room temperature is cooler.
- Push the pulp as much as possible to extract as much juice as possible.
- Fill a wooden barrel halfway with wine, but don’t fill it to the top because there needs to be room for expansion while it’s working.
- Ferment the juice for a few weeks, gradually topping it off. If in a wooden barrel, keep it loosely covered.
- Ferment for three weeks more with the airlock on at all times, then rack. Reattach the airlock.
- Rack once more in three weeks.
- Cap tightly once the fermentation has slowed or stopped.
- Rack it again after it has finished fermenting completely, wait seven days, and then bottle.
- It is ideal to let it sit for at least a year, as with any wine, to bring it that authentic flavor. Of course, you are free to consume alcohol at any time.
Enjoy your homemade wine with this guide for would-be sommeliers!
Making your wine is very economical in the long run (especially when compared to buying cases of decent bottled wine); of course, making your wine will not generate professional results or offer the variety that a well-stocked wine cellar can offer, but it’s a fantastic experience to share winemaking with friends and family.
There are numerous websites devoted to winemaking that can assist you in mastering this craft, thanks to the internet. Practice, practice, practice, and perhaps you, too, will be able to make the perfect batch of wine. Eh Paisano!